Vietnam is rapidly changing. Now is the time to experience this captivating country where the food and architecture is on par with the cultural experiences.
Catch a glimpse of Vietnamese daily life
The neighbourhood wet markets are fast giving way to modern Western-style supermarkets. Take a detour to one of the local markets where you’ll find seasonal tropical fruit like rambutan, dragon fruit and mangosteen. Pick up a local coffee bean roast (Vietnam is a top exporter) and enjoy home-style sweets you won’t find on the tourist strip, like xôi (sweetened sticky rice) and chè trôi nước (glutinous balls in ginger syrup). Get them at low, local prices or at least have fun trying.
Enjoy street food that is famous the world over
There’s nothing like parking yourself on the side of the street to watch a bowl of phở being prepared before slurping it down between mouthfuls of cà phê sữa đá (condensed milk iced coffee). Order a bánh mì thịt (pork sandwich) from a travelling stall and hear the satisfying crunch as the baguette is sliced and ingredients added one by one — order extra pickled radish, pate and chilli.
Get lost among the romantic colonial architecture
The French left behind some fine examples of early 20th century colonial architecture. Residential examples are disappearing, leaving public buildings to carry on the legacy. Visit the General Post Office by renowned architect Gustave Eiffel and Notre Dame Cathedral with the Blessed Virgin Mary at the front — two of Ho Chi Minh City’s most famous landmarks. Catch a show in the charming Hanoi Opera House, modelled on Paris’ grand Palaise Garnier.
Retrace the steps of literary greats
As a War Correspondent, Graham Greene frequented the rooftop bar of the Majestic Hotel for the cooling Saigon River breeze. But Hotel Continental is probably the main pilgrimage point for Greene fans because it’s where Fowler, the main character from The Quiet American, spends most of his time. Folwer’s room looked over Rue Catinat (now Dong Khoi St). Greene also stayed at The Metropole Hanoi (now Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi) when he was writing his most famous novel. That’s also where Somerset Maugham wrote The Gentleman in the Parlour and Charlie Chaplin stayed on his honeymoon.
Memorable experiences north to south
There are still plenty of memorable experiences outside frenetic Ho Chi Minh City and cultured Hanoi. Ha Long Bay’s mysterious beauty captivates visitors, Hoi An’s picturesque 16th century pan-Asian architecture is a must-see, and the Mekong Delta’s rice paddies and quaint villages are rewarding, off-the-beaten-track experiences.
By Thang Ngo